Protesters look out for police as they occupy a road during a rally against a new national security law in Hong Kong on July 1, 2020, on the 23rd anniversary of the city's handover from Britain to China. Hong Kong police made the first arrests under Beijing's new national security law on July 1 as the city greeted the anniversary of its handover to China with protesters fleeing water cannon.
AFP/Alastair Pike
Hong Kong makes first security law arrests as thousands defy protest ban
Jerome Taylor, Yan Zhao (Agence France-Presse) - July 2, 2020 - 7:53am

HONG KONG, China — Hong Kong police arrested about 370 people Wednesday — including 10 under China's new national security law — as thousands defied a ban on protests on the anniversary of the city's handover to China.

Police used water cannon, pepper spray and tear gas in a series of confrontations with protesters, one day after China drew global criticism for imposing the controversial legislation on the financial hub. 

Beijing said the law would restore stability after nearly a year of unrest, but instead it sparked the worst street violence in months.

Police said seven officers were injured — one was stabbed in the shoulder as he tried to make an arrest, and three others were hit by a "rioter" on a motorcycle.

Under the new law, certain political views and symbols became illegal overnight — including showing support for Hong Kong, Taiwan, Xinjiang and Tibet independence. 

Details released by police Wednesday accused those arrested under the new legislation of possessing independence flags, stickers and flyers.

"Advocacy for independence of Hong Kong is against the law," security minister John Lee told reporters. 

Still, many of those protesting chanted independence slogans — itself now against the law.

"What this authoritarian regime wants to do is to terrorise the people and stop them from coming out," Chris To, a 49-year-old protester, told AFP. 

Broken promise?

Opprobrium over the law poured in from critics and western governments — led by the United States and Britain — over fears the law will usher in a new era of mainland-style political repression. 

Under a deal ahead of the 1997 handover from Britain, authoritarian China guaranteed Hong Kong civil liberties as well as judicial and legislative autonomy until 2047 in a formula known as "One Country, Two Systems".

British foreign secretary Dominic Raab said the law breached that agreement, a registered treaty. 

Britain also said it would push ahead with previously announced plans to extend a possible path to citizenship for some three million Hong Kongers.

Washington has vowed unspecified counter-measures, but Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden slammed the administration of Donald Trump for not doing enough.

Biden said Trump had "surrendered our values and reassured China's autocrats they have a like-minded partner in the White House."

Beijing said foreign countries should keep quiet about the law, while Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam hailed the legislation as the "most important development" since the city's return to Beijing's rule.

Polarising date

After huge and often violent pro-democracy protests last year, authorities have shown zero tolerance for even peaceful rallies in recent months.

Gatherings of more than 50 people are banned anyway under anti-coronavirus regulations — even though local transmissions have ended. 

But the July 1 anniversary has long been a polarising day in the city.

Beijing loyalists celebrate Hong Kong's return to the Chinese motherland after a century and a half of what they consider humiliating colonial rule by Britain.

Early Wednesday, helicopters flew across Victoria Harbour carrying Chinese and Hong Kong flags, while a barge chugged past hailing the law in giant Chinese characters on scaffolds.

Democracy advocates have long used the handover date to hold rallies as popular anger towards Beijing swells — although this year's event was banned for the first time in 17 years.

During huge pro-democracy demonstrations last year, the city's legislature was besieged and trashed by protesters.

Chinese jurisdiction and life sentences

The "One Country, Two Systems" formula helped cement Hong Kong's status as a world-class business hub, bolstered by an independent judiciary and political freedoms unseen on the mainland. 

But critics have long accused Beijing of chipping away at that status and describe the new security law as the most brazen move yet.

It was passed in just six weeks, skipping Hong Kong's fractious legislature, and the precise wording was kept secret until it came into effect late Tuesday.

It outlaws subversion, secession, terrorism and colluding with foreign forces to undermine national security, with sentences of up to life in prison.

It also topples the legal firewall that has existed between the city's judiciary and the mainland's party-controlled courts.

China will have jurisdiction over "serious" cases and its security agencies will also be able to operate publicly in the city for the first time.

Another provision also claims universal jurisdiction for national security crimes committed beyond Hong Kong or China.  

Authorities in Taiwan opened a new office to deal with Hong Kongers seeking refuge.

Beijing says the law will not end Hong Kong's freedoms but critics have little faith in those assurances, given how similar national security laws are routinely used on the mainland to crush dissent.

As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: August 1, 2020 - 12:26pm

Millions march in Hong Kong in a powerful rebuke of an extradition law feared to expose them to China's capricious justice system.

August 1, 2020 - 12:26pm

Hong Kong's arrest warrants for activists overseas show that exile and foreign nationality are no protection against the city's sweeping national security law, one of the targeted dissidents warn.

Democracy campaigner and US citizen Samuel Chu, who runs the Hong Kong Democracy Council in Washington, says he had learned he is wanted for allegedly "inciting secession and colluding with foreign powers".

Chinese state media earlier reported Hong Kong police had ordered the arrest of six pro-democracy activists living in exile on suspicion of violating the new law. — AFP

July 30, 2020 - 5:02pm

Uber will keep its Asian headquarters in Singapore for now, the ride-hailing giant says, blaming regulatory uncertainty for thwarting a mooted shift to Hong Kong.

The decision came weeks after China imposed a controversial national security law on Hong Kong -- although Uber did not mention the legislation in its announcement.

The company announced massive layoffs in May due to the coronavirus, and said it was ready to move its regional base to the semi-autonomous Chinese city if there was progress on regulation there. — AFP

July 19, 2020 - 11:17am

 Hong Kong's status as a bastion of press freedom is in crisis as authorities toughen their line against international media and fears grow about local self-censorship under the city's sweeping new security law.

For decades the former British colony has been a shining light for journalists in Asia, lying on the fringes of an authoritarian China where the ruling Communist Party keeps a tight grip on public opinion.

The civil liberties that have stewarded the city's success were promised to Hong Kongers for another 50 years under a deal that returned the trading hub to Chinese rule in 1997. — AFP

July 15, 2020 - 1:07pm

China's new security law has sent a chill through Hong Kong's schools and universities with many teachers fearful the city's reputation for academic freedom and excellence is now at risk.

Just a week after the sweeping legislation was imposed on the territory, staff at some institutions have already been warned by their administrators to be careful how they teach.

"Remain neutral in your teaching and be mindful of the language you use," read one email to staff of HKU SPACE, a college attached to the prestigious University of Hong Kong (HKU). — AFP

July 15, 2020 - 11:45am

China says it would retaliate after US President Donald Trump signed into law an act allowing sanctions on banks over Beijing's clampdown on Hong Kong.

The Hong Kong Autonomy Act "maliciously slanders" national security legislation imposed by Beijing on the city, China's foreign ministry says in a statement. 

"China will make necessary responses to protect its legitimate interests, and impose sanctions on relevant US personnel and entities," the ministry says. — AFP

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